Medal: No (although we did get a technical shirt)
I entered this race on Tuesday after convincing my friend, Naomi, to enter as well, insisting that it would be a fantastic training run for the Giants Head marathon in 3 weeks. It would have hills, we could take it easy, and there would be fantastic scenery. We were both supposed to be running 23 miles, but hey, what’s an extra 5k?
In the days leading up to the race, however, I had already started to think about what this post might read like. And it always started with the same line:
This whole thing was my fault.
You see, Scotland does have a ‘summer’, and we are technically experiencing it at the moment. In fact, I became a little bit cocky last weekend when I shunned sunblock on my arms during a cycle, and was shown by mother nature that Scotland can deliver legitimate sunshine.
But Scottish weather has a tendency to be rather erratic, and so the forecast for torrential rain all day on Sunday was unsurprising, if a little disheartening. What was rather alarming, however, was the addition of the rarely seen lightning bolt on the weather symbol. Naomi sent me a screenshot of the forecast at one point, commenting only “…”. I could tell she was seriously pumped about this event:
Saturday night, Ian and I went ‘round to a friend’s for some board games (and beer), and I remember explicitly saying, “I want to be in bed by 11 at the latest.” I also remember Ian saying, “OK.” Sometime after midnight I climbed the stairs to my flat, and I finally got to sleep around 1:30 am. I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that my alarm was set for 4:15, but I think now is a good time to bring that up.
4:15 was fairly painful, but because we’re only weeks away from the longest day, it was already completely light outside, so it was easy enough to get myself motivated. I had some almond pancakes I had made the afternoon before, drank an energy drink, and got dressed. I then check the forecast approximately 834 times, before deciding to pack sun cream. Just in case. I thought I was being wildly optimistic.
Naomi picked me up at 5:30, and we began our nearly 2 hour journey to Cultybraggan Camp, a prisoner of war camp from WW2 that has had many uses, but it now used for various sporting activities. We arrived just as registration opened, and picked up our numbers and tech shirt, before taking advantage of the absence of queues at the portaloos. We also had a little wander about the camp, and noticed a couple of things: it was reasonably warm and the sun was starting to make an appearance, and we were surrounded by a lot of hills. And mountains.
Naomi and I both covered ourselves in sun cream, opting to leave our waterproof jackets and gloves in the car. At about 8:30, we hit up the portaloo queue one last time, briefly chatting to Iona, before making our way to the start for the race briefing, which was quick and straightforward. There was a countdown from three, and then a very casual surge forwards as a piper started up. Naomi and I chatted happily during our lap around the camp, before turning onto the finishing straight in reverse, and heading instantly uphill to the right.
We had been told that the first few miles are the toughest, and while we were happy enough to run the gentle incline, we reverted to a power walk for the steeper sections. This was, after all, just a training run. By the first mile, we had settled comfortably near the back of the pack, and viewed the uphill slog as an ‘easier version’ of what we would be facing at the end of the month. Oh, how we chuckled…
After about 5 miles, the course flattened out, but while the sun was still out, we were pressing on through a bit of a headwind, which was obviously delightful. Naomi did mention that without it, a lot of people would probably be too hot. I wasn’t so sure.
We finally caught a break at 8 miles, with about 2 miles of gentle downhill, only to be greeted by another uphill slog just before mile 11. By this point, however, we had passed one of the ‘personalized drink stations’ (the other being somewhere around mile 19). I picked up my bottle of Lucozade (pink lemonade, is any other flavour even worth it?) and we continued on, uphill. And yes, I know my legs are Chris-Hoy-Huge, and no, I’m not fishing for people to tell me they’re not, and yes, I know snazzy colours do nothing for them. I don’t care, I like the capris. They make me smile. Evidence: every photo in this post. They’re also really comfortable.
There were only a couple more noticeable climbs on the course, and before we knew it, we were cruising past mile 19, feeling alright, although this is also roughly when I realized I was hungry, which has never happened during a race before. I glanced down at my Garmin and did some quick maths. At least, in any normal circumstance it should have been quick, but at this point it took about 17 minutes.
“What’s your PB again?”
“I see…… What do you want to do about this?”
“I don’t know.”
Naomi said she’d see how she felt in a couple of miles, but I think both of us were thinking that the remainder of the course was pretty much downhill, and that even if there were hills, we could come in under 4:38. We may have started going just a teensy bit faster at this point. Our conversational skills turned to shit.
We made it to 23 miles at 4:02-ish. Naomi mentioned that someone had told her the final 3 miles rolled gently downhill. Someone lied. I’ll just leave the elevation profile here, shall I?
Now I realize it isn’t exactly Everest we were climbing in the last few miles, but when you’ve been banking on downhill, it sure as hell feels like it. We hit mile 25 with a shade over 13 minutes to make it to the finish. Naomi could smell her PB. I fancied a more relaxing jaunt to the finish.
“Do you mind if I…..”
“Go for it.”
I watched Naomi go on ahead, while I cooled the jets, and followed her luminous top as the rain came on. I could see the yellow mile marker up ahead. I could hear the ridiculously enthusiastic marshals cheering the runners in. I could see the turning into the campsite. And, once I’d bounded over the cattle grid, I was on the home straight, running into this view with fellow runners and volunteers cheering me on!
Naomi got her PB of 4:34:xx, and I came in a couple of minutes later, to be greeted by her unnecessary apologies for leaving me. Iona had also managed a PB, which is fantastic for someone who was aiming to “just finish comfortably”, and I’m sure she’ll be cruising in under the 4 hour mark soon.
Naomi and I had already agreed that we should wait a bit before getting straight back in the care, so we put our names down for a massage, and waited in the ‘queue’ (a clump of runners sunbathing on the grass). We got to chatting, and met a couple of fellow Highland Fling runners, as well as some runners who would be taking part in some of our upcoming races. A group even gave me one of their ice cold beers, which was honestly one of the most beautiful things on this planet (obviously, not including David Bowie in Labyrinth).
If you’re reading kind strangers – and I know I thanked you, like, 18 times already – but seriously, thank you. I was chatting to Naomi throughout the race about how a cold beer would be the cherry on top. You made my day!
After our rub down, we set off for home, and Naomi was treated to my highly arousing ‘asleep in the car with my mouth open’ look. I think I was out for about 30 minutes or so, but after barely any sleep the night before, not really enough food, and a bit of a buzz going on, I was cooked. We got home before 7, and after being dropped off, Ian and I ordered a pizza and did little else (he had been on a hilly cycle with a friend).
For a race neither of us had ever really planned to do, I think I can safely say that Naomi and I both had a fantastic experience. The marshals were helpful and enthusiastic throughout, the course was beautiful, but challenging, everything ran like clockwork, and it was pretty affordable for a marathon – £25. The only thing I could possibly criticize the race for is the lack of a medal – especially as it’s a marathon, but I get that’s a personal preference. I did promise Naomi before we entered that I would make us each a medal to commemorate our run, but seeing as it’s now her PB course, the pressure is on to make it extra snazzy!
The day after? I feel great! My legs were a little stiff getting out of bed, but no worse than a normal long run. I even wore heels to work for the first time this year (I had avoided them while training for the Fling because it would be wildly ambitious to assume I would not fall and break an ankle). I even managed a kettlebell session and a spin class with nothing more than a bit of fatigue! Marathon number 6 and I’m finally getting used to the distance. Bring on the Giants Head!
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